By Mary Kate Reilly
Plato! Aristotle! Ashton Kutcher…?
One of these things just doesn’t belong. And yet that scruffy, goofy, trucker-hat loving comedian was all I could think of while I read Chapter 4’s discussion of epideictic oratory, the enthymeme, and the use of logos, pathos, and ethos.
If you haven’t seen Ashton Kutcher’s acceptance speech from last month’s Teen Choice Awards, check it out below. If you have already viewed this video, it’s worth another look:
I definitely think Ashton and Aristotle would have been buds.
With a different rhetorical approach, the video easily could have gone viral as an example of a glib celeb giving life advice without any experience living “real life.” However, Kutcher employs ethos right off the bat, setting himself apart from other celebrities and establishing himself as a “knowledgeable, trustworthy speaker” by revealing that his name is actually Chris (81). The image, the hype of ‘Ashton’ falls away in that moment. Chris is just a normal guy, speaking to an audience of normal people. He has gained their trust.
Kutcher then divulges three pieces of advice involving opportunity, being “sexy,” and living life. These are issues that lend themselves perfectly to Aristotle’s definition of epideictic oratory. Kutcher seeks to “demonstrate what is honorable” to his breathless, impressionable teen audience, encouraging them to buck the trends and vices of their generation and cultivate original opinions and attitudes (77). He has seen a series of specific wrongs and speaks with the purpose of righting them for the “improvement of life in the polis,” in this case, teen generation.
An epideictic orator works to accomplish his rhetorical goals by praising or blaming, but Kutcher does neither of these outright. He instead embraces the idea of enthymema, which is defined in the textbook as something like “grasped internally” (74). Kutcher doesn’t need specific words to impress upon his audience that our culture has warped the ideas of opportunity, hard work, sex appeal, and life’s purpose. The mere fact that he needs to speak out in the first place is enough to demonstrate this.
He speaks his piece and leaves the stage. This allows the audience to fill in the blanks of his earnest appeal, draw their own conclusions, and, hopefully, begin to make a change.